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Judge orders halt to Palmdale's November election; city to appeal

September 30, 2013|By Jean Merl
  • Palmdale, seen in the foreground, has been ordered to stop its Nov. 5 election.
Palmdale, seen in the foreground, has been ordered to stop its Nov. 5 election. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles…)

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Monday ordered a halt to Palmdale's November municipal election on grounds that the city's at-large method of choosing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act.

Officials of Palmdale, one of several cities that have been sued under the decade-old law, said they would file an immediate appeal. 

In July, Judge Mark V. Mooney found that the city's election system undermines opportunities for its minority residents to choose a council member they believe would best represent their interests. 

He sided with plaintiffs who said the state's voting rights law requires that officials be elected by district, rather than citywide, when polarized voting -- differences in balloting by minority and majority residents -- exists. 

On Monday, Mooney granted the plaintiffs' request for a preliminary injunction to stop the election, just weeks away.

The judge said the plaintiffs, three Palmdale residents, "as well at the general public, would be irreparably harmed" if the city held an election Nov. 5 "or at any time before this court proscribes the permanent relief contemplated" in the July decision.

At the time of his earlier ruling, the judge said he would decide later how to remedy the situation. 

Palmdale, whose population is almost 55% Latino and nearly 15% black but has elected only one Latino and no blacks to its council since its incorporation in August 1962, has said it would appeal the decision.

Canceling the election would cause "the voters of this city of 154,000 people to be potentially silenced," officials said in a statement released in response to Monday's ruling.

Palmdale City Atty. Matthew Ditzhazy called the ruling "wildly unprecedented and radical" and said the city already has begun preparations for the November election, including mailing some absentee ballots.

"There has never been a reported case in California where a superior court judge has enjoined a regularly scheduled election five weeks before people are scheduled to go to the polls," Ditzhazy said in the statement. 

He noted that three of the four candidates vying for two seats are minorities, meaning that at least one minority would be elected.

But attorneys for the plaintiffs said the city has had plenty of notice that its elections system was likely to be overturned.

"For far too long already, the African American and Latino citizens of Palmdale have been disenfranchised," said plaintiff's attorney R. Rex Parris, who also is mayor of neighboring Lancaster.

"No longer should they be forced to wait for their rights while the city thumbs its nose at the law," Parris said in a statement commenting on the ruling.

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jean.merl@latimes.com

Twitter: @jeanmerl

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